The Social Misery of John Wesley’s England

The Glenn Beck/ progressive Christian dustup has gotten some of us Methodist bloggers thinking about John Wesley.  Where does Wesley, the founder of Methodism,  fit into this debate?

As a history major, I think it is important to look at social context.  If you want to understand John Wesley, then understand the world that he was living in.    That should give us a better idea of where John Wesley would come out on the social justice Richter scale.

Here is how D. Michael Henderson describes 18th century England in his book, A Model For Making Disciples:  John Wesley’s Class Meeting.

The poor, on the other hand, drifted in from the outlying agricultural areas, seeking work in the great cities.  They became grist for the wheels of industry, cheap labor to run the mills and factories, much as twentieth-century villagers have crowded into the teeming cities of Latin America, Asia, and Africa.  The countryside was drained of workers; the urban areas mushroomed with the incoming hordes of impoverished laborers.  Uprooted from whatever cultural and family roots they had known before, they became easy prey for both the ruthless lords of industry and the moral vices of the urban slum.

The most tragic victims of the “wheels of industry” were the children of the working families.  Many began at four or five years of age to work in the mines, the mills, and the brickyards.  Lord Shaftesbury, making a report tot he House Commons, reported  seeing children as young as three and a half, half clothed and malnourished, tottering under heavy loads of wet clay in the brickyards.

Let’s stop the conversation right there.  This is a world that is royally screwed up!  Three and half year olds being put to work??????????????

So where was the church in this? To quote Tony Campolo, the church didn’t give a shit.  Most Church leaders were too lazy and uncaring to do anything.  Plus, the state, who paid the salaries of clergy, heavily frowned upon anything that might rile up the slum dwellers.

And along came John Wesley.

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One thought on “The Social Misery of John Wesley’s England

  1. It is interesting that throughout history God in his compassion for His people raises up men to speak and lead.
    John Wesley was one of these men, who heard God in his heart and stood firm in his convictions and made an impact on the world. I pray that men today will follow his lead and stand for the people and be lead by God.

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